WE ARE NOT YET CLEANSED
It was years after the fact. As the Israelites were making their way to the Promised Land—and not long before they arrived at Canaan—many of the Israelite men committed fornication with Moabite women at a place called Peor (apparently Balaam had suggested the Moabites seduce the Israelites so that God would curse them). They engaged in “pagan sexual orgies,” according to the footnote in one paraphrase (New English Translation). If that were not bad enough, these same Israelites were also persuaded to worship the idol gods of the Moabites. As a result of this widespread immorality and idolatry, thousands of Israelites died. The “ringleaders” (New Living Translation) were either hanged or impaled on poles in broad daylight—a sobering reminder to the Israelites to remain faithful to God. Some 24,000 Israelites involved in the debauchery perished in a plague—more would have died had it not been for the audacious actions of Phinehas, who killed a fornicating Israelite man and Moabite woman, (continued on next page) (continued from first page) running them both through with a spear (Numbers 25).
Interestingly, years later—at least seven years—the “iniquity of Peor” still weighed on people’s minds. When a dispute over a memorial altar arose between the nine and a half tribes west of the Jordan River with the two and a half tribes east of the river, the western tribes accused the eastern tribes of “rebelling” against God (Joshua 22). Among other things, they rebuked them with this question:
Amazingly, after all those years, the Israelites still felt that they had not yet “cleansed” themselves of the sin at Peor! That raises the question, in what way had they not been cleansed? Had God not forgiven them of this wickedness? Apparently He had. All the ringleaders had been executed by the Israelites themselves. Apparently all those who actually participated in the fornication and idolatry died in the plague. And there’s no suggestion that the surviving Israelites were not genuinely penitent. Again, the majority of them had not participated in the apostasy, they executed the leaders of the apostasy, and God put a stop to the plague. So how were they not cleansed?
It seems reasonable to conclude that they still felt guilty and ashamed. Let that be a lesson for us. Even though we may genuinely repent of sin, the feelings of guilt and shame remain, often for years. God forgave David of his sins of adultery and murder (he had “utterly scorned the Lord” by his actions), but the sword never departed from his house (2 Samuel 12). Nothing went right for David afterwards. His infant son died, Amon raped Tamar, Absolam murdered Amon (and would have murdered David if he could have), Sheba led a second rebellion against David, and Adonijah treacherously challenged Solomon for the throne. David never had much peace or happiness in his old age. And he had no one to blame but himself.
We can genuinely repent of our sins and be truly forgiven, and we can make recompense over and over, but usually the wounds heal slowly and the scars remain.
And only time can cleanse us of the guilt and shame.